By twhalliii | THE BACK ROW MANIFESTO by Tom Hall December 16, 2010 at 6:31AM
Note: For a complete list of my favorite films of 2010, please visit my wholly deficient list over at criticWIRE.
Obligatory Repetitive Introduction
In the past, in lieu of ranking movies and being held hostage by the dissonance between the film release calendar and my own experience of the ebb and flow of filmgoing, I have listed my favorite cinematic experiences of the year. I want to get back to that; as the way in which I get to watch movies and talk about them continues to diversify, as the idea of cinematic experience expands to multiple devices, formats, cities, communities, I think this list is here to stay. The age of the theatrical release calendar is dead for me; we’re living in a new time, where the movies can be found in every area of life, from online conversations to your home entertainment system, the back of a car seat to a projection screen at a restaurant, your phone to a portable tablet. So, I am going back to my old model, probably for good; over the next ten days, I’ll be posting my Top 10 Cinematic Experiences of 2010. Not necessarily films (although sometimes), these are the experiences that defined my year in film culture. Subjectivity alert!
9. Jury Duty: River Run, Philadelphia, New Orleans and DOCNYC
I started working in independent film in 1997; I was hired to work in New Media at IFC and Bravo, covering film festivals and exhibiting film in the high speed online world. That means, if you count a two year hiatus in the early 2000’s, I have worked in the New York City film world for roughly thirteen years or so; 2010 marks the first time I was ever invited to serve on the jury at another film festival. Not that I minded and I am not complaining, but what surprised me most was how an initial jury invitation from the very good people at the River Run Film Festival turned me from a jury virgin to serving on no less than four film festival juries this year. When it rains...
One of the reasons this was a great experience for me was that I got to see how many other festivals operate in terms of their guest services, film choices, pass process, projection and operations; I can honestly say that most of these events were doing great work, their priorities were excellent and, given the state of non-profit and film festival funding in this country, were doing their best to show top quality work to audiences literally starved for choice at the movies. It was incredibly heartening to see so many people working at film festivals, creatively scrambling to make their events great, always putting the films front and center and always engaging within their respective communities. If nothing else, a film festival is a near-perfect vehicle for showcasing the power of storytelling to bring people together in dialogue with ideas and artists. These events all understood the power they were harnessing.
Winston-Salem, NC. Home of The River Run International Film Festival
So, it did come as a surprise to me when, writing an innocuous piece on the Filmmaker Magazine blog welcoming filmmakers to IFP Film Week, my thoughts came under assault from a battery of comments claiming collusion among film festivals to only show certain films, reject others, etc. Here is a nice sample of the opinions in the comments:
"The biggest problem for new filmmakers is that film festivals, like everything else in American entertainment culture, have become markets and markets driven by sales agents, high-profile broadcasters and distributors. If everything falls in place and you get extremely lucky, there is still a chance to succeed. But if you look around the festival circuit, the same films play at all the best fests. It is hard to be heard. Factor in the ease with which somebody can make a good-looking but unsubstantial film due to the technology, and you've got a real mess."-- Helmut
"Among independent filmmakers, there is the pervasive feeling that favoritism is rampant in the selection process at film festivals. This belief is having a negative effect on filmmakers, spawning cynicism and alienation, and weakening our community. Some dismiss this charge as merely the "losers" engaging in sour grapes whining. I don't think this is true, not for most. I have attended nearly 20 film festivals so far this year, listened and talked to numerous programmers and festival directors, and of course filmmakers, and I believe there is a significant problem with bias and favoritism -- not at every festival, but certainly at too many. This elephant needs the spotlight of discussion." -- Stewart Nusbaumer
Which, whoa. Having worked in festivals for years and years, I can tell you that there is a major disconnect between these representations and reality. There is more on this blog post coming in the future, so I won't steal the thunder of that piece, but needless to say, having worked at several film festivals and now having spent the heart of my year serving on other festival juries, there are really great events out there who only want to do what is best for filmmakers and the audience. I found that to be very heartening; no cynicism, it was a great experience and an honor to serve. I learned a ton, and there is nothing more important to me. My 2011 is wide open at this point. (*shameless pandering*)
#10 Twitter! Argh!